The scars on Charvis' face, which his beard helps hide, tell stories of a tough youth in Macon (GA), the most redlined city in the US. He was only 7 years old when his face got hit by a flying can of Coke cast by a man in a truck, shouting, “Nigger!” Without the promise of a better future, many of his friends ended up in jail, robbers and killers, or victims of crime or drugs. Charvis’ path to redemption started with laying bricks both figuratively and literally.
As a construction worker, he found pleasure seeing how, piece by piece, he laid the foundation for bigger structures. But when he got diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, he had to quit his job, and that is when he discovered art and found a new purpose.
He reads constantly, digging in to find gaps between the narrated history and the facts, then presenting the viewer with the missing parts. He writes and gives talks, and paints when he can't sleep. “I don't paint beautiful pictures; I try to engage and inspire young kids, explaining stories that we need to know because so much history has been untold,” he says. Behind Charvis, a white child with the Ku Klux Klan hat and robe is peeking out of a car, surrounded by posters of vintage movie heroes. Behind that, another painting shows a monumental image of Eugene Bullard, an important black figure of the 20th century whose name is not familiar to us.
When I ask him about the recent prominence of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, he is a bit skeptical. “I love the name, but when anger is only manifested in looting and destruction, it can't build a better future. We need structured plans to lead society to actually make the changes black people need. If we stop buying from huge businesses and foster a local economy of blacks, as a cohesive community, like the Chinese immigrants in our cities do, we would be better off and have more power. We lack organization.” He thinks that if it wasn't for the pandemic, the death of George Floyd would have been just another statistic. “Now we are dealing with emotions we didn't deal with before. In America, we are always distracted, kept under control by those in power who give us 'bread and circuses.' After work, concerts, sport events, and cinema fill the time, but thanks to lockdown, the killing of George Floyd suddenly was brought to people's attention!”